Flint Firebirds reinstate hockey coaches day after firing

FLINT, Mich. (AP) Flint Firebirds coach John Gruden got his job back a day after being fired, a move that triggered his players to throw their jerseys on the floor of the Ontario Hockey League team's front office.

''After our emotional shootout game against the Oshawa Generals, I made a decision with regards to our coaching staff, which was an irresponsible mistake,'' team owner Rolf Nilsen said Monday in a statement.

Nilsen said the team's senior leadership apologized to its players and met with OHL Commissioner David Branch, adding the Firebirds are cooperating with the league's investigation into the matter.

''My understanding is David came here from Toronto to figure out what happened here and why,'' team president Costa Papista said.

Papista said Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa were not fired because of a lack of playing time for defenseman Hakon Nilsen, son of the owner, as has been reported.

''That's something that when Rolf is ready to discuss, he might be able to shed some more light,'' Papista said in a telephone interview. ''I, personally, had not seen or witnessed any type of concern or displeasure around that issue.''

Papista said the team's general manager, Terry Christensen, told the coaches they were fired following Sunday's win over Oshawa Generals.

''After that, all 22 players marched up three flights of stairs and put their jerseys on the floor of our front office,'' Papista recalled. ''They vocalized that they were not going to play if this was the decision.''

Gruden has a three-year contract, and Karpa's one-year deal was extended by two years.

The Firebirds are in their first season after existing as the Plymouth Whalers in suburban Detroit, where the franchise was owned by Peter Karmanos, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. The team, in Plymouth and Flint, had operated relatively under the radar for years without much publicity. That changed on Sunday night after the firings were followed by the fallout with the players. The Firebirds are scheduled to host the Sarnia Sting on Friday night.

''I feel bad that this incident is completing overshadowing everything positive about our organization, the players and coaches,'' Papista said. ''We have to get this behind us and turn a negative into a positive.''

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